When Joe Fleming was in the eighth grade and preparing to play for the Gilroy Browns Pop Warner football team, he needed to drop 35 pounds in a two-month period to make the weight limit to play. Somehow, he got it done. With the help of his dad, Peter, Fleming ate healthier and ran whenever he could, resulting in a huge drop in weight in a short period of time.
“I was super proud of myself for doing that,” the Christopher High junior said. “My whole family was pretty proud.”
They’re still proud. Fleming has become an impact player for the Cougars, who enter Friday’s game against Alvarez at 3-5 overall and 1-4 in the Pacific Coast League’s Gabilan Division. Fleming plays tackle and end on the defensive line and tackle on the offensive line. At 6-foot-3 and 270 pounds, Fleming said he’s still growing.
In the off-season, Fleming trained at Fact Fitness to improve his footwork and overall strength. Even though Fleming said he improved his footwork, he still wants to get stronger, which would be downright scary for any opposing lineman who matches up with him. Cougars coach Tim Pierleoni said Fleming has been a key difference-maker for the program.
“He’s obviously one of our best defensive players for sure,” Pierleoni said. “At the end of last year as a sophomore he was probably our best defensive linemen and continued to stay that way as a junior. He’s definitely a force on our defensive front without a doubt, and he’s getting better and better every year. He’s more mature, working harder and knows what he’s doing. He has a motor on him, and that is half the battle for bigger guys playing this game.”
Even though he hasn’t received interest from four-year schools yet, Fleming said he would love to play in college. Pierleoni said college options would be available for Fleming as long as he continues to develop.
“He’s an extremely good athlete, is very athletic and extremely fast for his size,” Pierleoni said. “He has all the tools.”
Fleming continues to refine the technical aspects of his game and overall awareness. Defensively, one of Fleming’s goals is to make sure to keep the quarterback contained and in the pocket. Fleming has two different personas on and off the field. Off the field, Fleming is a gentle giant. On the field, he has to have a mean streak.
“No one is my friend on the field,” he said. “I’m doing my best to help the team and trying to earn a scholarship, so I can’t be friends with anyone on the field. After the game, it’s OK. But when we’re on the field, we can’t be friends.”
Case in point: Fleming had a solid game against San Benito High, producing a couple of tackles for losses. Fleming has friends from Hollister because he used to live there. His mom, Trisha Brown, still lives there along with Fleming’s three sisters, including Elizabeth and Caroline. Elizabeth is a standout senior athlete at San Benito in volleyball and swimming, and Caroline is a freshman on the Haybalers’ girls water polo team.
Fleming said his individual highlight of the season came against Hollister, a 34-28 loss on Sept. 28. In a season-opening 17-14 win over Monte Vista Christian, Fleming had four tackles and 2.5 sacks. A week later in a 33-31 loss to Live Oak High, Fleming finished with five tackles for losses and two sacks.
Still growing into his body, Fleming has tremendous potential and a huge ceiling, which should get college coaches showing interest in him soon. Even though Fleming will be the first to tell you he has plenty to improve on, he said he’s willing to put in the work, noting his commitment to consistently work out in the off-season. The Cougars hope to rebound strong after suffering three straight blowout losses.